DVORAK: American Suite / Silent Woods / Prague Waltzes

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Antonin Dvofiak (1841-1904)

American Suite Silent Woods Prague Waltzes Mazurka for violin and orchestra

Antonin Dvofiak was born in 1841, the son of a butcherand innkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near theBohemian town of Kralupy, some forty miles north ofPrague. It was natural that he should at first have beenexpected to follow the family trade, as the eldest son.

His musical abilities, however, soon became apparentand were encouraged by his father. After primaryschooling he was sent to lodge with an uncle in Zloniceand was there able to gain the then necessaryknowledge of German and improve his abilities as amusician, hitherto acquired at home in the village bandand in church. Further study of German and of music atKamenice, a town in northern Bohemia, led to hisadmission in 1857 to the Prague Organ School, wherehe studied for the following two years.

On leaving the Organ School, Dvofiak earned hisliving as a viola-player in a band under the direction ofKarel Komzak, an ensemble that was to form thenucleus of the Czech Provisional Theatre Orchestra,established in 1862. Four years later Smetana wasappointed conductor at the theatre, where his operasThe Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The BarteredBride had already been performed. It was not until1871 that Dvofiak resigned from the orchestra, devotinghimself more fully to composition, as his music beganto attract favourable local attention. In 1873 he marrieda former piano pupil, Anna Cermakova, sister of anactress from the theatre and daughter of a Praguegoldsmith, and in 1874 became organist of the churchof St Adalbert. During this period he continued tosupport himself by private teaching, while busy on aseries of compositions that gradually became known toa wider circle.

Further recognition came to Dvofiak in 1874, whenhis application for an Austrian government awardbrought his music to the attention of the critic EduardHanslick in Vienna and subsequently to that ofBrahms, a later member of the examining committee.

The granting of this award for five consecutive yearswas of material assistance. It was through this contactthat, impressed by Dvofiak's Moravian Duets enteredfor the award of 1877, Brahms was able to arrange fortheir publication by Simrock, who commissioned afurther work, Slavonic Dances, for piano duet. Thesuccess of these publications introduced Dvofiak'smusic to a much wider public, for which it held someexotic appeal. As his reputation grew, there were visitsto Germany and to England, where he was alwaysreceived with greater enthusiasm than might initiallyhave been accorded a Czech composer in Vienna.

In 1883 Dvofiak had rejected a tempting proposalthat he should write a German opera for Vienna. Athome he continued to contribute to Czech operaticrepertoire, an important element in re-establishingnational musical identity. The invitation to take up aposition in New York was another matter. In 1891 hehad become professor of composition at PragueConservatory and in the summer of the same year hewas invited to become director of the NationalConservatory of Music in New York, an institutionintended to foster American music, hitherto dominatedby musicians from Europe or largely trained there.

Dvofiak's contribution was seen as that of providing ablue-print for American national music, following theexample of Czech national music, which owed somuch to him. The musical results of Dvofiak's time inAmerica must lie chiefly in his own compositions,notably in his Symphony 'From the New World', hisAmerican Quartet and American Quintet, his ViolinSonatina, and, to a lesser extent, his so-calledAmerican Suite, works that rely strongly on theEuropean tradition that he had inherited, while makinguse of melodies and rhythms that might be associatedin one way or another with America. By 1895 Dvofiakwas home for good, resuming work at the PragueConservatory, of which he became director in 1901.

His final works included a series of symphonic poemsand two more operas, to add to the nine he had alreadycomposed. He died in Prague in 1904.

Dvofiak's orchestral works include a number ofarrangements of compositions originally designed forsmaller forces. His Mazurka, Op. 49, was written inFebruary 1879 for violin and piano and also effectivelyarranged by the composer for violin and orchestra. Thework was dedicated to the violinist Pablo Sarasate andfirst heard in Prague in the following month.

The Rondo in G minor for cello and orchestra,Op. 94, was written in October 1893, an arrangementof the earlier work for cello and piano that he hadcompleted in December 1891. It was designed for thecellist Hanu% Wihan, who had joined the teaching staffof Prague Conservatory in 1887. It was to Wihan thatDvofiak dedicated his Cello Concerto of 1895, and withhim that he played the original version of the Rondo ina Prague concert in March 1892. The work is a finevehicle for a virtuoso performer, and a testimony toWihan's technical ability.

Dvofiak's Seven Interludes, scored for smallorchestra, were written in January and February 1867,dating, therefore, from a period when the composerwas employed as a viola-player, playing operas fromItalian and French repertoire, and, under Smetana, nowstarting to tackle more Czech works. There issomething patently operatic and dramatic in the first ofthe pieces. The same mood informs the second, whilethe third offers a contrast, while still preserving theconception of an operatic entr'acte, in an idiom thatwould have been very familiar to the composer in theorchestra pit. The fourth is a livelier piece, anintroduction to a cheerful finale, and the fifth suggestsa triumphant and happy scene to come. The sixth piecehas an air of gentle lyricism, while the seventh returnsto the dramatic contrasts of the first, demonstrating,like the other pieces, Dvofiak's skill in handling theorchestra, however conventional the musical material.

Klid or Waldesruhe (Silent Woods) was originallythe fifth of a set of six pieces for piano duet, Ze ?Àumavy(From the Bohemian Forest), completed in January1884. Dvofiak arranged it for cello and orchestra, forthe primary purpose of a concert tour with Hanu%Wihan, and it was included in the Prague programmeof March 1892, in a version for cello and piano.

Dvofiak, it will be recalled, had years of experiencein lighter music, as an orchestral player in KarelKomzak's band. His Polonaise in E flat major waswritten in late December 1879 and heard on 6thJanuary 1880, among the celebrations usual for theEpiphany. His Five Prague Waltzes were written aweek or so earlier, to be heard on 28th December. ThePolka in B flat major was written in December 1880for a Prague students' ball on 6th January 1881.

The Nocturne was arranged first for violin andpiano from the Andante religoso slow movement ofString Quartet No. 4 in E minor, and forms the basis ofthe string orchestra version, apparently completed in1875. It was published in 1883 and heard the followingyear in London, when it was included in a programmeconducted by Dvofiak at the Crystal Palace, whereElgar was soon to have his first work played inLondon.

The Suite in A major for piano was completed inthe spring of 1894 and is sometimes known as theAmerican Suite It was arranged a year later by Dvofiakfor orchestra, before his return from America, andwhile he thought well of it, critics have generally foundlittle good to say of it, although fashions seem now tobe changing. The first of the five movements hastouches of the American, both in the opening motif andthe rhythmic and melodic ending of the theme. There isa stormy C sharp minor introduction to the secondmovement, before the appearance of a gentler centraltheme, related to the opening figure of the firstmovement. The musicologist Michael Beckerman hasdrawn attention to
Item number 8557352
Barcode 747313235223
Release date 10/01/2004
Category Classical
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Trostianski, Alexander
Yablonsky, Dmitry
Trostianski, Alexander
Yablonsky, Dmitry
Composers Dvorak, Antonin
Dvorak, Antonin
Conductors Yablonsky, Dmitry
Yablonsky, Dmitry
Orchestras Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Producers Doronina, Lubov
Doronina, Lubov
Disc: 1
Polka in B flat major, B. 114 (Op. 53a/1), "For Pr
1 Mazurka for Violin and Orchestra, B. 90 (Op. 49)
2 Rondo in G minor for Cello and Orchestra, B. 181 (
3 I. Capriccio (Allegro risoluto)
4 II. (Andante sostenuto)
5 III. Con molto espressione
6 IV. Allegro con brio
7 V. (Allegro assai)
8 VI. Serenata (Andantino con moto)
9 VII. Allegro animato
10 Silent Woods (Klid) for Cello and Orchestra, B. 18
11 Polonaise in E flat major, B. 100
12 Nocturne in B major, B. 48 (Op. 40)
13 I. Andante con moto
14 II. Allegro
15 III. Moderato (Alla Polacca)
16 IV. Andante
17 V. Allegro
18 5 Prague Waltzes, B. 99
19 Polka in B flat major, B. 114 (Op. 53a/1), "For Pr
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